It’s been two years since my last post. It’s not that I haven’t been writing. It’s just that I haven’t had enough time to devote it to writing about things that I need to express for (according to Google Analytics) no one to read. I’ve actually been writing things that people have read. This blog post is about words, political correctness, and that extra hoop we have to jump through every time we want to communicate. It’s interesting how at certain points in time, some words are acceptable, and some are not.
I’m not that old, yet I still remember clearly how the word ‘black’ was avoided (at least in the US), to describe a race. I never understood why! I still don’t. The appropriate term to be used was “African American”. I wonder how black people not of African descent growing up in the US must have felt being called African American. Then a couple of decades pass, and not only is the word “black” used, but it’s part of the name of one of the bigger movements of racial equality in the US (‘Black Lives Matter‘). I guess “African American Lives Matter” doesn’t have the same ring to it.
Is the acceptability of the use of a word down to marketing? If it isn’t catchy, we can change it, and we won’t be judged? If that’s the case, I’ll immediately start working on some communication strategies that include all these non-politically correct words, get some people to execute them and we won’t have a problem. I doubt we can get very far though, and that’s for the exact same reason people ignore when they hear a word that ‘offends’ them (or someone else). Context.
A word I noticed creeping into political incorrectness is ‘fat’. Such a beautiful word. Short, audibly precise, and meaningful. I guess, because of the number of ‘overweight’ and obese people in developed countries is continuing to rise, those same people are trying to ignore their health problems by making the use of the word ‘fat’ not politically correct, so that they can continue their destructive lifestyle. Why can’t I describe someone as ‘fat’ without there being any connotation of humiliation or contempt? Fat people are trying to spin their weight as something not due to their excessive eating of the wrong type of food, and as something beyond their control. Now the political correct word for ‘fat’ is ‘big’.
This is the most infuriating thing about this. Do you know who is big? The mountain. Or Shaquille O’Neal. He‘s 2.16m tall and weighs 147kg. If you’re 1.75m tall and weigh more than Shaq, it is impossible for you to have that much muscle. You, dear chum, are simply fat (although, if at that weight, you actually do not have a high percentage of body fat, I suspect there is something seriously wrong with your health). The word ‘overweight’ doesn’t work in this scenario either. That means that there is a preconceived or predetermined notion of what the ideal weight is, and that person has passed it. With that rationale, all bodybuilders are ‘overweight’. What they are not, though, is fat. Dictionary.com defines ‘fat’ as: “having too much flabby tissue; corpulent;”, and if you dive deeper and look at the definition of ‘corpulent’, you come up with other suitable words as well, such as ‘stout’ or ‘portly’. Should we now start using these other words to describe fat people, just because they’re longer, more difficult, and less famous? Would that avoid ‘feelings’ being hurt? Can a person simply accept the phrase “you’re getting fat” without experiencing an emotional tragedy? The communicator is trying to state a fact. Because of the necessity of political correctness, and this social shift in the meaning of words she now has to continue elaborating that simple statement of fact in order to ensure that the listener correctly understands her message.
The problem is that these shifts in the meanings of words are being construed improperly. When it comes to offending and insulting people, shouldn’t the process be more difficult for the offendor rather than the offendee? Today, it’s really easy to offend someone. Especially if you can easily categorize them, by either physical characteristics, race, sex, or anything else. Just imagine calling someone a nigger, midget, or cunt. If a third person is within earshot, a gasp is guaranteed. Some malevolent asshole can have a lot of power over a person by just learning a few key words that have now been designed by society to have a very precise purpose.
(Just a side note: you can see sexism even in the dictionary, where the definition of ‘cunt‘ comes with a usage disclaimer, whereas the definition of ‘dick‘ doesn’t).
The problem with this is that by setting up these social rules, that sometimes do not pass nation borders (e.g. the usage of ‘cunt’ in the UK is much more acceptable than in the US), people are giving too much power to the offendor. Hateful communication should not be easy. It should not be in the domain of those with the lowest level of intellect. Idiots, because of their handicap, should not have the ability to perpetrate hate. Yet they do.
Let’s test our notions of being offended by a couple of examples as an illustration for this blog post. Think about which do you find more offensive.
- “Cunt” or “A completely inept flower”
- “Midget” or “The most beautiful package of excrement ever created”
- “Fat” or “An incapable sludge”
- “Nigger” or “An incredibly proficient oxygen waster”
- “Bitch” or “Untalented trollop”
On the other side of the argument however, that doesn’t mean that people shouldn’t be efficient in their communication. By all means, efficiency should be the guiding principle communication. People should strive to transmit information with as little energy and effort as possible; especially when it comes to complex ideas. Not to make this post too romantic, but love is much more difficult to communicate than hate. Why is that? If we use evolution as an analogy, does that mean that we as a species have a much greater need to communicate offensive words, therefore their communication has become more efficient? Or is it that we’re just more attuned to negative words than positive words? Maybe negative words present greater obstacles in our lives therefore we’ve developed our brains to become more sensitive to that type of communication, so that we can recognize it more easily, and thus we have put ourselves in the position to be emotionally destabilized by simple low-letter-count words and/or how they’re said. Imagine the opposite. Easily recognizing whether someone is genuine in their positive communication; knowing whether “thank you” or “you look lovely today” is an authentic statement or just a product of habit, while ignoring or at least disregarding the authenticity of offensive words.
One train of thought that I stumbled upon during my incessant web browsing was long the lines of: “if something offends you, politely ask that person to stop. If they refuse, remove yourself from the environment. We don’t have the right to decide what does and doesn’t upset other people, but we also don’t have the right to tell people what they can and can’t say. The key here though is not to be a dick, even if the other person is”. That is one option.
Because everyone can get upset about anything they please, and because people are like little children, when those children find the winning formula, i.e. using as little energy as possible to upset someone, they will do that until it doesn’t work anymore. When I was little, classmates used to call me names, and I used to get upset, and chase them around in anger trying to either hit them, or reciprocate in name calling. My father advised me that the better option would be to just act like I did not care. I did just that, and (in hindsight, obviously) they stopped. They tried to move on to different types of name calling. That didn’t work. Then they moved on to another person and left me alone. This in my opinion is the ideal option. To just refuse to be offended by simplicity; for everyone to require a comprehensive and coherent communication of a significant amount of words that in sum creates something negative. Only then does it become appropriate to respond with, something that is taxing; a shift in emotions. If we use that standard, and someone takes the time and energy to try and offend you, then you can subject yourself to ‘feeling’ hurt, or even better, frustrate the offendor by ignoring his efforts.
So, if you’ve already read 1400+ words, and you’re down to this last paragraph, please try to make yourself impervious to currently established, simple, one word offensive communication. If someone calls you a cunt respond with “thank you, I’ve been working out; glad you noticed”, because that word describes one of the toughest and resilient organs that a human being can possess (doesn’t cause pain when you hit it, it can stretch to push out babies, and it is an object of desire by more than half of the world population). Make it more difficult to for hate to be communicated, because we now have the internet, and it’s easy for everyone to disseminate words. Hopefully, our world will become more pleasant that way.